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Domestic partnerships in California are a way to extend legal rights and recognition to unmarried couples. The original law, which went into effect in 2000, made domestic partnerships only available to same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples over the age of 62. Because same-sex marriage was not legal at that time, the law was a way to afford the same rights and protections to LGBT couples that married couples enjoy.

Once the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage with a 2015 ruling, LGBT couples now have the option of choosing either to get married or to register a domestic partnership. However, domestic partnership was not an option for heterosexual couples under the age of 62. In other words, there was a disparity between the rights of same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples that, ironically, the original domestic partnership law had attempted to correct.

By signing a new bill into law on July 30th, the governor corrected the imbalance by expanding domestic partnerships to all opposite-sex couples, provided that they meet the other qualifications. The new law places all couples on an equal footing, giving them the same options.

Eligibility requirements

Any couple that wishes to register a domestic partnership in California must meet the following requirements:

  • Capable of giving consent
  • At least 18 years of age
  • Not related too closely by blood
  • Not married or otherwise involved in a valid domestic partnership

A couple who meets these requirements can register by filing a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the office of the Secretary of State. Once registered, a couple in a domestic partnership has the same rights, including the right to terminate the relationship, as married couples have under state law.

Possible benefits

An individual couple’s circumstances may indicate whether a domestic partnership is a preferable option to traditional marriage. Some couples may choose to enter into a domestic partnership to save money on their federal income taxes by avoiding the marriage penalty. Although state law recognizes domestic partnerships, federal law does not.

Other couples may choose domestic partnerships out of personal preference. They may wish to obtain the benefits, protections and rights that married people have yet feel uncomfortable with the cultural connotations and gender-differentiated roles of traditional marriage.